Whether you run or strength train, what you do on your rest days is important. Rather than increasing stiffness by staying static, why not invest 15 minutes into doing a mobility workout?
Rest days are important. Taking time to rest and recover is an essential part of the strengthening process, because that’s when muscles get a chance to repair, access vital nutrients and grow. But what exactly are you meant to do on a rest day? Sit still and watch Netflix? While sofa therapy definitely has a place in our recovery plans, you can’t beat a 15-minute spot of mobility on a rest day.
Mobility workouts are all about increasing your range of motion. Unlike certain forms of yoga, which require you to stay in poses for one or two minutes to increase flexibility, mobility is more about using movement to deepen exercises and make other forms of movement more accessible. If you weight train, you might want to work on deepening your squat, for example. Rather than staying in a deep yogic squat, a mobility workout would have you holding onto your toes while you move between bent and straight legs (or squatting and standing).
We could all do with more mobility in our lives. Runners are notorious for neglecting other forms of movement, despite the fact that running tends to make hips tighter. We forget to move side-to-side or to stretch out the posterior chain (the glutes and hamstrings).
You don’t have to spend lots of time stretching on your days off to make a difference either; think of this weekly 15-minute period as the WD40 to your workouts – a chance to oil creaky joints and soothe any niggles.
We already know that active recovery can reduce muscle stiffness; movement can remove harmful waste build-up and increase endorphins. Anything that encourages blood flow to the muscles is going to mean a better supply of nutrients like glucose and oxygen too – the stuff that muscles need to rebuild. But why should you go for mobility over, say, a yoga class or gentle jog?
Mobility makes us more flexible
To be flexible, you’ve got to have good mobility. That’s because mobility “improves our joints, muscles, and tendons’ ability to move through a full range of motion,” SWTC trainer, Emma Obayuvana explains – meaning that in order to touch your toes, your joints have to be able to move freely.
That increased range can lead to “improved movement patterns, strengthening the mind-body connection.” When we learn how to move well, we map out new neural pathways that enhance the control we have over our bodies. You don’t have to move fast or strong, you just have to move accurately.
It helps us to get stronger
Mobility exercises can strengthen muscles slightly (a pike or downward dog pose, for example, works the shoulder muscles) but they work more as a strengthening aid.
Improving your mobility will allow you to get into the best positions for certain exercises, which as Emma points out, “will contribute to better muscle development and, in turn, strength.”
Mobility reduces injury risk
Rest days are important for a few reasons – one of them being injury prevention. So often, we pick up niggles and strains from overworking certain areas, allowing tendons to become overly tight and failing to rebalance under-active muscles. Having days off can help reduce the load, while mobility actively prevents issues from happening in the first place.
Studies have shown that having a greater range of motion in your joints (mobility) can reduce your risk of injury. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that practising mobility can improve your posture – which again, reduces your risk of chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. In fact, one study found that good pelvic mobility may be linked to a healthy spinal posture while another concluded that hip immobility (attention, all you runners!) can affect the natural curvature of the lumbar spine.
In other words, if you find yourself hunching over while you run, it’s time to try some gentle hip-openers – like a kneeling hip hinge.
“Better mobility means that you’re able to perform exercises with correct form, which allows you to get the most out of your strength training,” Emma continues. “Being able to drop into a deeper squat, for example, will enable you to build even stronger legs.” That better movement and stronger legs will protect you during those longer runs, when you want the force from each stride to be equally distributed.
It takes hardly any time
A yoga class tends to take at least an hour. We’re asking for just 15 minutes of your time to do a few full-body stretches. This is speedy, targeted and in the long run, time-saving.
Mobility keeps us active for longer
Perhaps the most important reason to make mobility your non-negotiable rest day activity is the fact that it’ll help keep you active well into the future. The natural mobility of our joints starts to deteriorate when we’re just 30 years old. If you want to jump, run, lift, row or cycle when you’re older, mobility has to be on the weekly menu.
You can choose your own stretches
While there are plenty of set mobility workouts out there, the joy of doing a mobility session is that you can choose what you do on any given day. If you did a 5k jog the day before, you might be feeling tighter in your lower body – so might want to spend a few minutes going between cossacks, pigeon and quad rockers.
If you had a heavy upper body session, add more upper back, shoulder and core-based moves, like seated deltoid stretch and scorpions.
Check out the How To library for 100s of bodyweight moves that’ll strengthen and lengthen every muscle in your body.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.